In my daily job, I write about current events. I notice trends in the world and inside of my own newsroom. One particular trend I’ve noticed gaining more prevalence is the refusal by many news outlets to use the names of shooters or terrorists in the dozens of stories that these individuals spawn.
After the Orlando shooting, I observed that my colleagues had made an unspoken deal. We all wrote posts that referred to “the Orlando shooter,” not Omar Mateen. The same was mostly true with the Planned Parenthood shooter and San Bernardino shooters. Prior to that, we - and so many other outlets - were referencing Elliot Roger instead of “the Santa Barbara shooter” and James Holmes instead of “the Aurora shooter.” As mass murder became something we had to write about with increasing frequency, we adjusted to reporting news in a manner that wouldn’t lead to audience glorification of the perpetrator(s).
Similarly, I noticed that last month, while covering the sexual assault trial and sentencing that held people captive for days, reporters and online commenters continually referenced “the Stanford rapist.”
That didn’t feel right. Brock Turner is the name of the man who sexually assaulted a woman behind a dumpster. Brock Turner was found over her unconscious body by two students on bicycles. Brock Turner got the lenient sentence. Brock Turner was the subject of the impact statement read 'round the world. What separates Brock Turner from shooters and terrorists is that he is not dead. He is not facing life sentences.
No. He is facing three months in prison after his six month sentence was reduced. Most rapists never see a day in jail. That’s not true of perpetrators of other types of violence, which is a sad indictment of our society. We would never stand for a murderer to avoid appropriate sentencing, but the justice system collectively remains silent when it happens to sexual criminals.
That’s why we have to say Brock Turner’s name. Say it loud. Say it often. Write it out instead of typing “the Stanford rapist” every time. Destroy his Google results. Erase every positive association that his name has. Years from now, when a woman looks him up before a first Tinder date or a potential employer Googles him, make sure that his name means only one thing: Assailant.
Using the wise Albus Dumbledore as a vessel, J.K. Rolling told us that “Fear of the name increases fear of the thing itself." The sort of terror that rapists and sexual assailants traffic in is psychological. It is wielded on the assumptions that they won’t get caught and that they have the right and the power to force sexual activity on someone. Certain types of violence are meant to maim, kill, or inflict immediate pain. Rape and sexual assault plant seeds of trauma that grow and flourish for the rest of a victim’s life. We are right to be afraid of what these attackers are capable of. We are right to worry that if we are victimized, we will never have justice. What we are not right to do is let that fear consume us. We are not right to hide or to stay quiet.
We are right to loudly, proudly name and shame these perpetrators.
For victims everywhere, there may never be criminal justice, but there can at least be no trace of pity or fear. We owe it to the victims to make sure that rapists’ names are used until they literally become synonymous with “rapist.” When no one will give us justice, we need to take it for ourselves.